Primary Feelings

Our painful experience does not represent failure. We feel to go beyond the reasoning for our anger.  For example, feeling anger in the body...the heat...then what the expression of anger would say or sound-like.  This produces neurons to parts of the brain that release cortisol (stress hormone) and produce necessary cognition to the immune system, enabling a clearing that opens the way to a bio-cognitive embodied self-love and self-compassion, potentially moving us toward whole-healing.

This from his ground-breaking book: Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield

Buddhist psychology helps us distinguish two critical aspects of feeling.  The first and most essential quality is called the primary feeling.  According to this perspective, every moment of our sense experience has a feeling tone.  Like valence in chemistry, each sight, sound, taste, touch, smell or thought will have either a pleasant, painful or neutral quality.  Modern neuroscience confirms that everything that registers in the brain is assigned some negative or positive valence. The primary feeling tone comes first.  Then, born out of this simple feeling tone, there arises a whole array of secondary feelings, all the emotions we are familiar with, from joy and anger to fear and delight.

"Working with the primary feelings is a direct route to enlightenment," explained one of my Burmese teachers.  The stream of primary feelings is always with us, but we often have the mistaken notion that life is not supposed to be this way.  We secretly believe that if we can act just right, then our stream of feelings will be pleasant and there will be no pain, no loss.

So when a painful experience arises we try to get rid of it, and when a pleasant experience arises we try to grasp it.  When a neutral experience arises we tend to ignore it.  We're always wanting the right (pleasant) feelings and trying to avoid the wrong (painful) ones.  And when they are unpleasant we react endlessly, struggling to get it right.

As we become wiser we realize that fixing the flow of feelings doesn't work.  Primary feelings are simply feelings, and every day consists of thousands of pleasant, painful and neutral moments, for you, Condoleeza Rice, the Dalai Lama, Mick Jagger and the Buddha alike.  These feelings are not wrong or bad.  They are the stream of feelings of life.  Sylvia Boorstein, my colleague, writes, "What a relief it was for me to go to my first meditation retreat and hear people who seemed quite happy speak the truth so clearly - the First Noble Truth that life is difficult and painful, just by its nature, not because we're doing it wrong."

Everyday we can heal into life by repeatedly practicing insightful clearing and opening the gates to empathic joy.  Our other option is ruminating on misery.